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Fire of Love
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CHAPTER III

OF POVERTY

If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell all that thou hast and give it to the poor and come and follow Christ. In the forsaking of worldly things and in the following of Christly things, it is shown there is perfection. Forsooth all that have forsaken their goods follow not Christ, for many are worse after the forsaking of their good than they were before. Then certain they serve backbiting, and they dread not to withdraw the good fame of their neighbours. Then they swell with envy; they gnash with malice; they set themselves before all others; they praise their state, all others they either dispraise or condemn. Trowest thou how that the fiend has beguiled such, that neither have the world nor God, whom by divers wiles he leads to endless tormentry.

Thou that understandest that I have said, take thy poverty another way. When He says ‘go and sell’ He marks the changing of thy desire and of thy thought, as thus: he that was proud now be lowly; that was wrathful now be meek; he that was envious now be charitable; before covetous, now generous and discreet. And if he were unclean, now let him abstain not only from all ill but from all likeness of ill. And if before he exceeded in meat or drink, now by fasting let him amend. He soothly that loved the world too mickle, now let him gather himself altogether in Christ’s love; and fasten all the waverings of his heart in one desire for things everlasting. And so no marvel that willful poverty shall be fruitful to him, and the noy that he suffers for God be a glorious crown. Beati pauperes spiritu, quoniam ipsorum est regnum coelorum. That is to say: ‘Bless be they that are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

What is poverty of spirit but meekness of mind, by the which a man knows his own infirmity? Seeing that he may not come to perfect stableness but by the grace of God, all things that might let him from that grace he forsakes, and he sets his desire only in the joy of his Maker. And as of one root spring many branches, so of wilful poverty, taken in this wise, proceed virtues and marvellousness untrowed. Not as some that change their clothes and not their souls; soothly it seems they forsake riches, yet they cease not to gather innumerable vices.

What is worse than a proud poor man? What more cursed than an envious beggar? If thou truly forsake all things for God, see more what thou despisest than what thou forsakest. Take heed busily how thou followest Christ in manners. Discite, inquit, a me quia mitis sum, et humilis corde. ’Learn of me,’ He says, ‘for I am meek and lowly of heart.’ He says not ‘learn of me for I am poor. Truly by itself poverty is no virtue but rather wretchedness; nor for itself praised, but because it is the instrument of virtue and helps to get blessedness, and makes many eschew many occasions of sinning. And therefore it is to be praised and desired. It lets a man from being honoured, although he be virtuous; but rather it makes him despised and over-led, and cast out among lovers of the world. To suffer all which for Christ is highly needful.

Therefore Christ to our example led a poor life in this way, for He knew that for them that abound in riches and liking it is hard to enter into heaven.

Therefore so that men should desire poverty more greedily He has promised high honour and the power of justice to them that forsake all things for Him, saying: Vos qui reliquistis omnia et secuti estis me, sedebitis super sedes duodecim, judicantes duodecim tribus Israel, that is to say: ‘Ye that have forsaken all things and followed me, shall sit on twelve seats, deeming the twelve tribes of Israel.’

They soothly that have wilful poverty and want in the meekness and lowliness that Christ teaches, are more wretched than they that have plenty of all riches, nor shall they take the apostles places of worthiness in the day of doom; but they shall be clad with the doublet of confusion, that is damnation of body and soul. They soothly that shine in meekness and lowliness, though they have mickle riches, yet shall they be set on the right hand of Christ when He deems.

Some men soothly say: we can not leave all, we are sick; it behoves us to keep our necessaries that we may live, and that is lawful. But they are the less worthy, for they dare not suffer anguish, poverty and neediness for God. Yet by the grace of God they may come to the height of virtue, and lift themselves to the contemplation of heavenly things, if they forsake secular occupations and errands, and unwearily rise to meditate and pray; and hold not the goods they have with full love, but having them, forsake them.

Take heed also: to seek more than enough is foul covetousness; to keep back necessaries is frailty; but to forsake all things is perfectness. Therefore whiles they see high things that they can not reach, they empride not nor presume because of the small things that they have, so that they may mannerly ascend to the ordering of man’s life: of which now follows.

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